John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Finns fuming at Brownlee's comments

Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A top minister has sparked a near-diplomatic incident after suggesting Finns are uneducated, unemployed murderers who don't respect women.

Speaking in Parliament, Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee rejected Labour's plans to model the economy on Finland, "which has worse unemployment than us, has less growth than us, can hardly feed the people who live there, has a terrible homicide rate, hardly educates its people, and has no respect for women."

Ari Hallenberg, Finland's consul-general in Auckland, said Brownlee's comments were inaccurate. "I think it would have been better left unsaid," the diplomat said.

He was considering calling the Finnish embassy in Canberra to complain, and said Finnish media would also take issue with Brownlee. "This will create a storm when the comments go back to Finland."

According to the OECD, Finland has the best education system in the world.

Elina Vaisanen from the New Zealand Scandinavia Business Association said the comments were outrageous - and the Finnish economy could teach Brownlee plenty. "You get a hell of a lot more money selling a Nokia than a couple of sheep."

Vaisanen acknowledged Finland might have more murders, but said random acts of violence were very rare. "You get a few school shootings every once in a while, which nobody is proud of. But you get nutters everywhere. But over there, I don't know anyone whose house would have been burgled. Here, I don't know anyone who wouldn't have been burgled."

On Friday, Brownlee said the debate on Finland and the Labour leadership was essentially humorous - though within humour, there was satire, and within satire, some truth. He said the debate should not have offended Finns.

Brownlee said New Zealand had made progress towards becoming a high-value manufacturer but conceded there were "some aspects of Finland's economic policy that you'd have to say are admirable".

According to the OECD Better Life Index, Finland's murder rate is nearly twice that of New Zealand. It also has worse unemployment and health provision.

But on economic indicators such as income, life satisfaction and work-life balance, Finland is ahead of us - and for education, is rated best in the world.

- Herald on Sunday

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